SALAD GREEN: matovilc, also called lamb’s lettuce and mâche

My father used to grow matovilc in his garden in Adelaide.  Some may know this salad green as lamb’s lettuce or mâche as it is known in France. I have also found references to it being called corn salad, apparently because it grows wild in cultivated fields in temperate climates.

I know this salad green well and ate it regularly in Trieste where I lived as a child. You are probably thinking that matovilc does not sound very much like an Italian word, and you are correct – it is Sloveniac/Croatian where it is more commonly known as matovilac.

Those of you who have travelled to France may recognise it, but unless you have been to Trieste you are unlikely to find it anywhere else in Italy. One of my father’s acquaintances smuggled a few seeds out from Trieste to Adelaide; you no longer have to break the law, seeds can be found.

The top photo is what I bought in Brisbane from the Powerhouse Farmers’ Market. I was there last weekend and it was sold as whole heads in the form of rosettes. In Trieste we also purchased it in the market, the leaves were sold loose by the handful and were very small.

I always get excited when I see this salad green, it is not easily found for sale in the state where I live and is generally cultivated at home. My father picked the matovilc growing in his garden leaf by leaf (as he did all his salad greens); it is very easy to grow and is at its best in spring. It goes to seed quickly in warm climates.

As a simple salad (dressed with a wine vinegar, salt pepper and extra virgin olive oil) it is particularly appreciated in Trieste when accompanied with fried sardines (first dipped in a little flour and salt and the fried in very hot extra virgin olive oil). The contrasts of the almost sweet, delicate taste of the leaves and the strong taste of the sardines works well together.

In France, I ate a lot of mâche as part of the numerous salade composée, which seem very much part of café food offered at lunchtime. It seems to be an excellent way to present smallgoods or use up left-overs. In fact in Brisbane my friend and I used the left over pancetta (cooked it), pecans, a dressing made with raspberry vinegar and extra virgin olive oil and some brie that were all left over from the meal from the night before. This also tasted excellent and gave both of us much pleasure in using up left over ingredients creatively.

This photo is Salade de Pigeon Landaise, vinaigrette de son jus. It was taken in Paris at Le Cordon Bleu Academie D’Art Culinaire and was one of the dishes cooked by Monsieur Le Chef (as the students seem to refer to him respectfully).
I watched the chef cook and sampled the following:
·      Salade de pigeon landaise, vinaigrette de son jus / Roasted squab salad, squab jus vinaigrette
·      Salmis de canard en cabouillade / Roasted duck “salmis”
·      Biscuit roulé fourré à la ricotta et mandarines / Swiss roll filled with ricotta and mandarins.

This photo is of the simple salad my friend and I prepared when we stayed in the converted barn at La Vieille Grange in Mercadiol (a small hamlet) in the South West of France. It is the same restored barn that Stephanie Alexander stayed (with Maggie Beer and Colin her husband) when she researched material for her book Cooking & Travelling in the South-West France. We travelled to many open air markets and bought local produce – that particular morning we found some mâche, beautiful radishes and local fresh trout, come home and had a good time preparing lunch – the mushrooms were sautéed in local extra virgin olive oil with parsley and garlic. The local bread, pate, sausisson (sausage) and cheeses which we also ate at the same repast are missing from the photo.


SALADE COMPOSÉE (A French mixed salad)

salad compose

The French seem to enjoy salade composée either as an entrée as a light meal. I know I am stereopyping and I hate it when others discuss food preferred by the Italians or the Sicilians, so I will begin again.

When I was in Paris in September and while in the South West of France I ate my way through many servings of salade composée. This refers to a salad in which an assortment of ingredients with a balance of colours, flavours and textures arranged aesthetically on a plate and drizzled with a tasty vinaigrette. It is likely to be composed of a variety of seasonal fresh and cooked vegetables and one or a combination of meats, fish, eggs, nuts or cheese.

In the history of French cuisine, I know that presenting salads is fairly recent, but everywhere I went there seemed to be salade composée.


I stayed with my partner and two friends in La Vieille Grange in Mercadiol (a small hamlet) in the South West of France. It is the same restored barn that Stephanie Alexander stayed (with Maggie Beer and Colin her husband) when she researched material for her book Cooking & Travelling in the South-West France.


The cooking of South West of France is rooted in historical tradition, seasonal produce and nothing is wasted. Apart from a good selection of salad leaves there were other vegetables: potatoes and tiny green beans. Some had cured pork products as well, and of course many had walnuts. So important was the vinaigrette, perhaps made with a combination of walnut oil, olive oil and wine vinegar.

In that location of France I sampled much of the local food and there were plenty of duck’s gizzards, but these were often mixed with other duck meat: pan-fried breasts, smoked or air dried breasts, stuffed necks, confit, terrines, fois products and whole livers. Pan-fried duck livers are so good when cooked properly. (I soak the whole, cleaned livers in milk for about four hours before frying them in a little duck fat, then deglaze them with a little Armagnac, wine or vinegar and then add them and any caremelised juices from the pan to the vinaigrette).


I was very fortunate to attend a class at Le Cordon Bleu Academie D’Art Culinaire in Paris and even there, Le Chef cooked Salade de Pigeon Landase, vinaigrette de son jus as an entrée. The main component was squab breast cooked rare in goose fat. The rest of the squab was braised with shallots, carrots and bouquet garni and then drained. The meat was presented on lambs lettuce, watercress, raw mushrooms and toasted pine nuts. The vinaigrette was the squab jus mixed with red wine vinegar, hazelnut oil and a little mustard. We were presented with what Le Chef cooked, and it was superb.

I always add seasonal vegetables to my salade composée. Because it is spring, I add vegetables such as broad beans, asparagus, peas, zucchini. I also add fresh herbs and a mixture of leaves, sweet, bitter and pungent (eg watercress, rocket, lambs lettuce).

Eating a salad (such as a salade composée) at the start to a meal would be very unusual in Sicily, but they may eat a caponata on its own accompanied by some very good bread.

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